Sunday, January 29, 2017

Forbidden Root Brewery - Brunch

Another day, another brewery.  Despite the fact that I have been heavy on breweries of late, I am not turning this into a blog about brewery food.  It just happens that things fell in such a way that dining (and drinking) at several breweries fell in such a way that they happened to be consecutive.  A recent brunch took us to Forbidden Root Brewery, a brewery that focuses heavily on botanicals and makes me wonder what they might be like if they decided to make Gin or Amaro.
Located in the former Hub Theatre in West Town (picture obviously taken several months before it was opened), it uses the front lobby as the dining room which is very rustic.  The floor is mostly cement, but there are remnants of old tile.  The walls are old brick and the ceilings are high with offices above the entrance.  The bar is rectangular and is in the center of the room with a tap menu on both sides.  There are seats all the way around it, but in order to see the tap menu, you have to be on either side (and not the front or back).  There are five large communal tables in the dining room and in a small space in the back that overlooks the brewing area and there is banquette seating on the side walls.  There is a display cabinet on the back wall on either side of the space leading to the brewing area.  The cabinet is filled with gallon jugs of dried herbs and spices, that I would guess that they use in there beers and elixirs (They make two ounce tinctures of herbs and spices that you can drink on its own or add to beers or cocktails to change the flavor).
Being a brewery, and an unusual brewery at that, it would be a shame to go and not try some of their beer.  They also serve cocktails, but I always feel guilty ordering a cocktail at a brewery.  They started out with a hard Root Beer that had a root beer flavor, but was not exceptionally sweet, a hard Ginger Ale, and a WPA (Wildflower Pale Ale).  I had already had all of those so while I did order a flight, I decided to go with things that I had not yet tried.  They have a wide variety of styles and I decided to sample widely.  From left to right, I was served a Kold and Wet Kolsch, Green Eyes:  Underberg  Edition Coffee-Infused Blonde Ale, Spruce Willis Colorado Blue Spruce-Infused Saison, Snoochie Boochies Double IPA (someone must be a Kevin Smith fan), and Ukie-Vass Rye Ale brewed with Ukranian Village Rye Bread in the style of Kvass.  None of the beers were bad, but some I did like more than others.  I liked the ones with the most distinctive flavors, specifically I liked the Green Eyes and Snoochie Boochies best.
Forbidden Root's brunch menu is kind of small covering both breakfast and lunch items.  they do have the usual brunch standards, but with a pretty good cheffy spin (Coconut Milk French Toast with Vanilla Bean French Toast and Huckleberry Jam or a Savory Pancake with Kimchi as examples).  My selection was relatively mundane for me, but it still had a spin and it was pretty good.  I had a Three Egg Omelet with N'duja (an Italian-style spreadable salami) and Provolone Cheese with a side of Fried Potatoes and House Ketchup.  I also had a side dish of Beeler's Bacon.  The omelet was light, fluffy and cooked perfectly.  The N'duja added a spicy, meaty flavor and you can never go wrong with cheese.  The Provlone added a light cheesy flavor and texture.  The potatoes were crisp and salty with a nice flavor and the bacon was very good, cooked between crisp and chewy.  I had never heard of Beeler's Bacon, but apparently it is from a farm in Iowa (Beeler's) that raises there pigs in a humane manner and feeds them a vegetarian diet with no antibiotics or other drugs.  The pork was good quality and the care of the animals showed in the taste of the bacon.  I will definitely have to find this for when I don't feel like making my own bacon.  Brunch was very good as were the beers.  I will definitely keep this in mind when I want to have something familiar and yet with a spin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lagunitas Brewery Taproom

 It is a good time to be a beer drinker.  There are over 5000 breweries in the United States and about 50 in the city of Chicago alone.  Most are pretty small and self-distribute if they distribute at all, but there are a few big boys in town.  Many places have a capacity of a few thousand barrels per year, Lagunitas Brewery Chicago has a capacity of 600,000 barrels per year.  I had been to several several breweries before I first went to Lagunitas, so I knew what to expect, I thought.  Riding there, I noticed that it is much bigger than the other breweries that I was used to.  While I had seen breweries in warehouses before, this seemed to take up an entire large warehouse space.  The sign was on one corner with a very complete address.

Walking into the building the fun continues.  The Long hallway leading back into the building is blue with a lot of black light and lasers.  The painted sign leading to the tap room is yellow and orange with a real psychedelic vibe.  The letters are twisted and have a winding tail that leads down the hall.  In addition to the blue light and the lasers, the Willy Wonka theme (Pure Imagination) plays on repeat.  At the end of the hall is a picture of a woman holding a beer labeled Waldo that is completely made of bottle caps and around the corner is another painting of a cartoon monster with a green body and red horns and tongue.

At the end of the hall where the art is, the passageway turns left and passes window, behind wich are brewing and packaging areas and a sense of scale is started to be gained.  The number and size of brewing and fermenting vessels are of a scale I had not previously seen and I was kind of blown away.

At the end of the hall is a stairway that leads to the third floor where the taproom is located.  On the way up, there is a door on the second level that references Star Wars, saying that this is not the door that you are looking for and instructs the prospective drinker to go higher.  At the top of the stairs, there is more wandering to be done.  There is a Schwag shop across from the stairway and windows showing a party room and the upper level of the brewing area.  A walk down the passageway at that level, it turns right and then enters the taproom.  The taproom is well lit with windows on three sides, wood paneled walls, long picnic tables and a large rectangular bar on the far side.  there is a small "stage" on one side that frequently has live music, typically Roots, Folk, and Americana.   In addition to the seating inside the taproom, there are couches and tables in the passageway before entering the taproom and tables on a catwalk overlooking the brewing area.  While it is cool to walk out on the catwalk, I prefer to do my drinking and dining in the taproom and at the bar as well.
There is a chalkboard on the wall dividing the taproom from the kitchen listing the beers on tap.  there are generally about 16 beers on tap.  You can order by the pint or 5 oz pour in a flight of 4 or 8.  Because they have so many beers, I like to get a flight so I can try as many as I can.  generally, i go for a flight of 4 because I want to be able to get home without issue.  I discovered Lagunitas through their IPA and while I like it, I generally prefer to order new beers or limited runs.  Fo r this trip, I went with Aunt Sally Dry-Hopped Sweet Tart Sour Mash Ale, CitruSinensis Pale Ale, Fusion American Double/Imperial IPA, and Hop Stoopid American Double/Imperial IPA.  Aunt Sally is a hoppy Wild Ale and it's pretty good.  It is pretty sour, but the hops actually complement the sour flavor.  The CitruSinensis is a Pale Ale made with Blood Oranges.  I like their standard Pale Ale which is what their base beer is, but the addition of blood oranges adds a sweet tart flavor.  The Fusion and Hop Stoopid are both High Alcohol beers.  the Fusion leans more toward a Double and the Hop Stoopid is more an Imperial IPA.  Of the beers, I think I liked Aunt Sally best.
The food menu at Lagunitas leans toward barbecue, burgers, and bar food, but they do have salads and some entree plates.  This time I decided to go with Pork Schnitzel with Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apple Demi, and Pickled Fennel and Onions as a garnish.  The Schnitzel was tender and juicy with a nice crispy crust.  The apple demi added a cider flavor to the schnitzel and acted as a gravy to the mashed potatoes.  The Brussels Sprouts were tender, flavorful, and the entire plate was very good and enjoyable.
For dessert, I went with a Spent Grain Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream, Caramel, and Candied Malt.  I am a sucker for brownies, and this brownie, very large and made with grain that had been used in the brewing process, was very much a winner.  The ice cream, while nice, was unnecessary.

I always enjoy coming to Lagunitas.  The beer is good and there is always something new, and they don't skimp on the food.  While there are other beers that I like more, the beer here is good and they know how to have a good time, so I will surely return.      

Saturday, January 21, 2017

El Ideas

I try to go to a high end fine dining restaurant about twice a year,  I hadn't gone anywhere since June, so I decided that it was time to go.  There have been a number of fine dining restaurants that have opened in Chicago in the last year, but I am still trying to cover those that have been open for a while.  There were three restaurants on my short list, Goosefoot, El Ideas and Schwa.  I decided on El Ideas because I was looking for something a little less pretentious than Goosefoot and Schwa is impossible to get a reservation.  I had heard that El Ideas was in the middle of nowhere and while it is on the south side at the end of a dead end street next to a rail yard off Western, it's only about 4 blocks from Lagunitas Brewing and wouldn't be a long bike ride for me.  Looking at Google Maps ahead of time, though, I didn't see any good places to park that were close, so I decided to take public transportation.  The fact that it started raining as I started my trip also convinced me that this was a good idea.  Not only is El Ideas at the end of a dead end road, it is also unmarked on the outside.  It is noticeably a restaurant from the window and there is a sign on the inner door that says, "Get the EL in here!" to indicate that you are in the right place.  It is a small space seating about 20 people with a curved half-wall between the kitchen and the dining area.  The coat rack is just inside the kitchen area and, as a matter of fact, diners are allowed to get up and explore the kitchen with the exception of the hot line at any time during the meal.  It is a BYOB, so we brought a couple of bottles of wine, a Chablis and a Pinot Noir, which went well with the dinner.  There is some graffiti style art on several walls and despite the fact that it's pretty casual, it still has white tablecloths. 
Our first course was a test of sorts, to take take the pretentiousness out of the food.  It was a very nice dish with Osetra Caviar on top of a Poached Quail Egg with a base of Popcorn and a garnish of Cauliflower.  Normally when you get caviar, it will be served on crackers or at least crackers will be served with it.  We had no crackers.  We also had no silverware.  Picking this up would be extremely difficult and even if you did manage it, you would still make a mess (I did try to pick it up long enough to realize that it didn't have a solid base).  We were told that in order to eat it we were to lick it off the plate and any fingers used were cut off.  I had no problem picking up the plate, sucking the egg and caviar off the plate, and licking what was left.  What was funny was that the plate was clear and you could see your dining partner licking their own plate.  It was fun, it was funny, and it was a great prelude to what would be a great dinner.
For our next course, we had something that reminded me of Cream of Mushroom Soup.  Served in a bowl that looked like it had been carved out of a tree, which made sense because all of the ingredients came from the forest.  It started with Sunchoke Broth, and had Mushrooms, Snails, Black Truffles, Chartreuse, Nasturtium, and finished with Hazelnuts.  The flavor was creamy and earthy and was quickly a favorite. 
The Mushroom soup was a favorite until the next course was presented.  It was a slice of Sturgeon sitting in Granny Smith Apple Puree, surrounded by Winter Radishes and Lardo, and with Dill Powder spread around the outside of the plate.  It was a fairly simple presentation which made it easy to try the individual parts separately.  I worked from the inside out and liked each individual piece until I got to the Dill Powder.  That was a taste explosion that blew me away.  The flavor was very bright and went well with everything, but it was best when you could get a taste of everything at once.  The different flavors and textures were a perfect complement to each other. 
The seafood continued with the next course.  It looked and smelled like Lobster and while it did have lobster in it, that was not the key ingredient. The dish started with Monkfish, which is my favorite fish, to which was added the aforementioned Lobster, Hedgehog Mushrooms, and Spaghetti Squash.  It was rich, sweet, and texturally like a seafood pasta that went heavy on the pasta.

The next dish felt a little like an interlude.  In any case it was very much a surprise.  We were asked if we liked magic as we were presented with what looked like a fountain glass.  In the glass there was something white and crumbly.  It looked like it had been flash frozen with liquid nitrogen.  There was even a little steam rising off of it.  That couldn't be the case though, because the bottom of the glass was warm.  We were told that the dish was inspired by the chef's daughter's love of French Fries and Ice Cream.  We were then told if we wanted to see something cool, we should shove our spoon to the bottom of the glass.  As we did this, we got a huge cloud of steam released from the glass.  The Vanilla Ice Cream on top had been flash frozen with liquid nitrogen and placed on top of some warm Potato Leek Soup.  It was very good and did very much remind me of French Fries and a Vanilla Shake and I really enjoyed it.

When we started our dinner, Chef Phil Foss said that they were trying to take the pretention out of fine dining and part of that was allowing us to get up and wander around the kitchen.  The only place we were not allowed to go was the hot line which is the aisle right in front of the stove.  With the interesting flavors we were getting, especially the dill powder in the 3rd course, we decided to take a walk to see what other interesting spices they had.  Looking at the jars, it was obvious that they had a sense of humor.  The three jars of dehydrated mushrooms were pretty humorous, but what was interesting was finding a jar of course pink material called Love on one of the shelves.  Without thinking about it, I set myself up by asking the chef, "What is Love?" To which he replied, "Baby, don't hurt me."  That was the only response that I got, so I laughed at myself a little and we returned to our table.
After we returned to our table, the meat courses started.  First with something that I thought looked a lot like Pork because it was very pink, but turned out to be Veal.  It was served with Parsnips, Crispy Polenta, and Thyme Oil.  The veal was very tender and pink and, as should be expected pf veal, it was very tender.  The Parsnips were similar to potatoes with a slightly sweeter taste,  The polenta was cut thin and presented like crispy noodles, and the thyme oil added an accent to the dish.  It was very good and a nice start to the meat courses.
After the baby cow came the best example of what beef might be.  We were served a slice of A5 Wagyu Beef which was served with Maitake Mushrooms, Tosaka (Red Seaweed), Black Garlic, and what, according to the menu, was Atun.  A5 is the highest grade of Japanese beef.  The designation is similar to USDA Prime.  It was incredible.  We were given a knife, but the beef was so tender, it was almost like butter and a knife was really unnecessary.  The mushroom and seaweed were under the beef and added an earty and tart salty flavor.  There were also several dots of sauce surrounding the beef.  I have to guess that that was the Atun, which I was unable to find out what exactly what it was.  What it tasted like was Umeboshi or Pickled Salt Plums and added another salty and tart flavor.  I am not sure that I would eat some of the individual pieces on their own, but together, the dish was fantastic.
The next dish reminded me for all the world of Thanksgiving.  It obviously was not turkey, but the textures and flavors reminded me of Thanksgiving.  We had a Puff Pastry filled with Minced Hare and was served with Celery Root, Cranberry, Cocoa Nibs, and Chestnut.  Rabbit has a taste similar to Chicken, so I imagine the combination of the Hare, Cranberry, and Chestnut triggered my memories of Thanksgivings past.
Our final savory course did have the strongest flavors and was very earthy with some nice spice.  It also had the nicest plating design of the meat courses.  It was Venison that had no gamy flavor, so I have to guess that it was farm raised.  It was served on a wide stripe of Horseradish with Black Lentils and a single Turnip.  It almost felt like we were served the meat along with the diet that the animal had eaten.
Our first dessert course, while definitely a dessert course was also kind of a transitional course because it also kind of included meat.  We were presented with what was essentially a deconstructed Baklava.  It had the standard Phyllo Dough, Honey, and Pistachios, but it also had Quince, which kind of made sense as far as textures and flavors were concerned.  What was a surprise was the Foie Gras.  It was rich, tender, and had a light flavor, and surprisingly went very well with the rest of the baklava.  It was very good and a little puzzling as well because I missed the intro to the course and we were not presented with menus until the end of the meal.
Our next dessert course was much less surprising and more obviously a dessert.  It was a Lemon Tart using Wild Citrus and topped with a Black Sesame flavored Whipped Cream.  I like lemon tarts, the more tart the better.  The wild citrus did have lemon tartness, but it was milder than many lemon tarts that I have had in the past.  It did have a little more bitter earthiness than a standard tart that went well with the black sesame which while it tastes like sesame, is also stronger and more bitter.  It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't exceptionally exciting.
The final course was a fitting finish.  It was a standard finish as far as ingredients, but it was pretty off the wall as far as presentation.  This fit with the restaurant overall, which did a pretty standard course progression for a fine dining restaurant but presented things in a way that was different or might add something unexpected.  For our final course, we finished with a Chocolate Torte that was presented with Banana-Coffee Meringue with a texture similar to a macaron crust.  Everything was topped with Banana Cotton Candy with Edible Gold Leaf.  It was very good, with a lot of flavor, but it was also a little bizarre with the cotton candy.  In any case, it was eaten completely and enjoyed.

I really enjoyed my dinner here as did my dining partner and friend, Julia, who deserves photo credit for many of the courses (1,2,3,6,7,10, 11, and 12).  While it is off the beaten path, I highly recommend it.  The food and service are excellent with a low key vibe.  They seem to really enjoy what they are doing and do it well with a lot of humor.     

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hopewell Brewing - Monday Night Dinner with Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits

Before Christmas I had come across a notice for a beer and pizza dinner with partners I was very interested in.  I could not at the time however, commit to it and thought I would come back to it after Christmas.  When I did try to come back to it though, I could find no note of it anywhere.  I did however come across a beer dinner hosted by a brewery in my neighborhood, Hopewell Brewing, with food provided by Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits.  Most beer dinners are done by a restaurant to feature a brewery and Hopewell Brewery doesn't have a kitchen, so this was a little unusual.  Hopewell is planning on doing a dinner series, inviting different restaurants to work with them, so that should be a lot of fun.  The taproom at Hopewell Brewing is big and open with a high ceiling and communal tables (in addition to the bar which was not used for the dinner).  The front of the space has floor to ceiling windows which were covered with shades for the evening and the brewing tanks are in the back and can be seen trough a window in the taproom wall. Things started out immediately after we checked in.  there was a plate of Pastry Crust with a Champagne Foam on top.  It was a one bite wonder with a very tender and flaky crust and a light tangy foam.  With the pastry square we were served our first beer.  Called Clover Club, it was a Wild Raspberry Beer made with Gin Botanicals.  It was sour with a nice raspberry flavor and bitter from the botanicals.  It was very red and also very clear, and it wasn't something that you might want to drink quickly.
After we had our beginning bite and our first beer, we found a spot to sit at one of the communal tables, our choice.  The food was going to come out family style and we were to serve ourselves.  I found a spot near some interesting people and we had some good conversations throughout the evening, although because one couple were parents to triplets and another was a brother to triplets, the conversation kept on coming back to triplets.  Our first course started with a Farmer's Salad with Arugula, Granny Smith Apples, Walnuts, Pomegranate, Goat Cheese, and a Champagne Vinaigrette.  With that came a Mini Scratch Biscuit, the full size for which Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits is known, and Dijon Chive Butter.  The salad was fresh, crisp and very flavorful with nicely peppery arugula, sour and crisp apples, tart goat cheese, bittersweet pomegranate and nutty walnuts.  The beer, the Friends and Family Saison, had a nice funk and evoked the farmhouse as well.
Our next course was simple, but still a classic that is a favorite at Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits, Mac and Cheese.  Done with Elbow Macaroni, it was very cheesy and also included Maple Glazed Country Ham.  The salad took a couple of passes for it to be reduced to the dregs, but the mac and cheese disappeared quickly.  Served with the Mac and Cheese was the Swift IPA which is crisp with a sweet bitterness and a malty backbone.
Our main course was very much a standard in midwestern homes, Meatloaf, but this Meatloaf was ridiculous.  It was enormous and topped with Oyster Mushroom Gravy (although it tasted also as if it used Barbecue Sauce in the loaf).  As sides, we were served Country Style Green Beans with Bacon and Onions and Whipped Potatoes with more Oyster Mushroom Gravy.  The meatloaf was cooked very well, was a lot less greasy than many meatloafs that I have had in the past, had a slightly crisp exterior, and a great flavor.  It was also pretty heavy so many people (including me) brought some home.  The beans were fresh and crisp and the bacon and onions provided a nice added flavor.  The potatoes were chunky and flavorful and the gravy added a nice mushroom flavor.  The beer that was paired with the meatloaf was Thick and Thin Stout.  It had a nice and strong stout flavor that went well with the meatloaf.
Last came dessert and while many of us were approaching full, Bang Bang does some great fruit pies so we were very excited for dessert.  We, surprisingly, were not served pie, but it was similar.  We got a Cast Iron Cherry Crisp with Spiced Tart Cherries and Brown Sugar Crumble.  It wasn't a pie, but it was like a pie with out the crust and it was still fantastic.  It also disappeared pretty quickly.  Our final beer was the Very Nice Belgian Strong Ale and it was very nice.  It was rich and sweet and went well with the cherry crisp.

This dinner was a lot of fun.  The food wasn't incredibly elaborate and was in fact pretty common in kitchens around the Midwest, it was done very well and went well with the good, but simple beers served by Hopewell.  I made sure to add myself to their email list so I know when they do another dinner.